The Red heads to Hamilton to face Patriot League foe Colgate at 7 p.m. tonight, hoping to open its season at 2-0 for the first time since 1999. However, it will be a difficult feat, as Cornell will encounter an experienced and talented Colgate squad that was picked to finish third in the Patriot League this season after winning 17 games a year ago.
Despite high expectations, Colgate has struggled to an early 0-2 record, losing close contests to Marist and Eastern Michigan. However, Cornell expects a closer, more tightly fought game than it experienced in its opener against Buffalo.
6-4 sophomore swingman Cody Toppert said about the Red Raiders, “They’re a much more fundamentally sound team than Buffalo was. We’re expecting highly skilled players. We’re going to try to keep them out of the lane and prevent them from getting it to their big guys since last year they pretty much bullied us around inside. So, if we can keep their big men from having big games and hitting short jump shots which they’re good at, and if we can crash the boards and push the ball, we’ll be in good shape.”
6-2 senior guard Dave Hardy leads Colgate in scoring at 16.5 ppg, while 6-8, 240-pound sophomore forward Andrew Zidar is averaging 15 ppg and 7.5 rpg. Additionally, preseason All-Patriot selection Mark Linebaugh has averaged a respectable 14 ppg, though he is shooting a disappointing 33 percent from the floor after two games.
Nonetheless, head coach Steve Donahue lauded the Colgate guard.
“I think he is one of the best guards we’ll play against all season,” he said. “He can really do everything. He can put the ball on the floor and penetrate. He’s athletic. He can shoot the three. He just knows how to play and he can pass the ball well too. Overall, he’s just fundamentally sound.”
Injuries to 6-7, 240 pound junior forward Howard Blue and 6-5 junior guard Tim Sullivan have contributed to the Red Raiders’ lackluster 0-2 start, in which Colgate has shot a subpar 39.8 percent, including only 26.8 percent from three-point range. Blue, who averaged 11 ppg and 5.6 rpg in 2001-02, has yet to play a single minute due to an ankle injury, while Sullivan has seen his playing time diminish due to a back injury after averaging 8.6 ppg last year. Nonetheless, Donahue expects both to play. If they don’t, 6-6 senior forward Martin Marek, 5-11 sophomore guard Keith Williams, and 6-1 freshman guard Alvin Reed will see their playing time increased.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Cornell, which opened its 2002-03 season with an impressive 78-72 win against MAC opponent Buffalo. Eleven players saw action, with six seeing over ten minutes of action. Sophomore center Eric Taylor, compared to Bill Walton by Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, scored a career-high 30 points, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double. Last year’s leading returning scorer, Toppert added 18 points on six of eight shooting, while freshman Lenny Collins contributed an excellent all-around effort with 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Junior guard Ka’Ron Barnes chipped in nine points, including seven in the second half. Though sophomore point guard Steve Cobb scored only three points, he added five rebounds and matched his career best in assists with six.
The Red is exceptionally confident and excited about the possibility of getting off to a 2-0 record for the first time since 1999. Not only is its best start in three years at stake, but the Red can also avenge last year’s 68-55 loss to the Red Raiders.
“It’s definitely motivation, but every game is motivation for us because we have something to prove since last year,” Toppert said. “They came in here last year and just manhandled us. But, we definitely feel like we’re a different team this year. It’s just a step-by-step progress. We want to continue where we left off at Buffalo. We don’t want to have a let down. We’re going to come out as aggressive as we can, and hopefully we’ll be successful.”
Expecting a more disciplined, half-court style game against a patient Colgate team, Taylor actually warned against being too confident going into tomorrow’s game, a far cry from last year’s 5-22 squad that sometimes questioned its ability to compete consistently against Division I competition.
“We are a lot more confident going into tomorrow’s game after winning against Buffalo. But now we can’t get overconfident and forget to do the things that we did against them to win.” Taylor said. “We have to bring everything to the court that we did last Friday, and if we do, I think we’ll be fine. We said all off-season that we were going to be a much better team, and now we’ve had a chance to prove it. And now we can prove it again against Colgate.”
Archived article by Mark Fetzko